Yesterday afternoon I decided to look up the casualty count for the U.S. in the Vietnam War, The apparent official number is 58,220.
An hour or so later the CBS news update showed over 1,000,000 COVID-19 cases, and over 58,300 deaths from the disease. Of course the worldwide figures are much higher. And this is just beginning.
The same day action was taken to reopen meat-packing plants, the latest battlegrounds for the virus; at the same time taking action to limit liability against the corporations owning the plants if employees who come back to work are affected by the disease because of hazardous working conditions.
And the news was full of careless ignorance by the President of daily Presidential Briefings which began to sound the alarms about COVID-19 in the earliest days of 2020.
Vietnam was a war to defeat the Communists, at least so I remember. And we lost. Today’s is a different kind of war. Our “soldiers” are sent to fight and to die to buttress the economy; to supposedly make America great again; to save a regime in an upcoming election. One side will so assert; the other will attempt to deflect and deny…. So it goes.
In a matter of months we’ve lost more from COVID-19 than we did in many years of the Vietnam War. Anyone in their 60s, or older, can remember this past from living experience. In my case, I was a military veteran who was in the Army in the early 1960s, but had completed my tour a few years before my Unit actually was deployed to Vietnam. I learned later that its fate was typical.
Two brothers were Air Force officers and served in Southeast Asia during their active duty time, one was injured on duty.
It happened that my time in service coincided with the preparation for combat in Vietnam. I didn’t know this at the time, but my entire time in Company C, 1st Battalion, 61st Infantry, 5th Infantry Division (Mechanized) in suburban Colorado Springs CO was helping prepare an Infantry Division for combat over there. We played war; we didn’t have to dodge real bullets. Downstairs I have a certificate signed by Donald Rumsfeld certifying me as a Vietnam-era veteran – I saw it just a few days ago.
My barber was a combat Marine in Vietnam in later 1960s. His kid brother also joined the Marines, went to Vietnam, and in less than a year died in combat. His name is on the Wall in D.C., and a similar war on the State Capitol grounds in Minnesota.
Tom and I talk about the military each time I get a haircut. We’re brothers in a real sense. He is on military disability: his disability seems to be mostly fear of confinement in close spaces, claustrophobia. He’s a short guy, and was perfect for ‘tunnel rat’ duty in Nam. Every time they went on guard duty, or on patrol, over there, could be their last. They didn’t know.
He followed orders; he was Honor Man in his training company. He’s a great, great guy, but a walking war casualty.
We will get through this current catastrophe.
In Vietnam era, it was young Americans, mostly young men, who ended up as the cannon fodder in a hopeless case. The surviving young men, now old, are in the cohort most at risk of the effects of COVID-19 today.
In today’s America, it’s people like myself, older, most especially those in Nursing homes or with certain pre-existing conditions, and those who serve them, who are being offered up in deference to something worthless to them: “the economy”. Yesterday a doctor on the front lines committed suicide; soon people will be given an impossible choice: to work in unsafe environments with no legal recourse, or lose their livelihood. Great choice, isn’t it?
Yes, this is a ‘rough draft of history’, as are all news accounts we will read or hear or see today, and every day. It reminds me of another quotation I saw when we entered Auschwitz as visitors in 2000, from Philosopher George Santayana: “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it“.